Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to a region on the east section of the China-India border on Saturday. The region is known as the so-called “Arunachal Pradesh” in India. On the same day, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed strong opposition to Modi’s visit – the third visit to the region as Indian Prime Minister.
There is one thing that confuses Chinese people: Modi visited the so-called “Arunachal Pradesh” in 2015, 2018 and 2019, and the three trips were all during China’s Spring Festival holiday. Why? Is that a deliberate provocation against Beijing, or is the Indian government making use of the traditional festival when Chinese people are busy celebrating holidays? Does India really think it can violate China’s interests in a sneaky way and benefit from it?
China’s attitude toward border disputes has been clear-cut: China won’t cede one inch of its territory. And Modi should have been fully aware of that. As Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to the visit, the Chinese government has never recognised so called “Arunachal Pradesh.”
Nationalism has been rising in India and the country’s current conditions are unfavourable for Modi’s re-election. Considering Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered its worst defeat in five state assembly elections last year, Modi understands that the party is not invincible. On January 19, 500,000 people reportedly turned out for a massive “Unite India” rally against Modi and his party. Under such pressure, Modi’s purpose for visiting the region is obvious.
The BJP won its rise by advocating Hindu nationalism. After it became the ruling party, nationalism can also be seen by the government’s rejection of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and from India’s disputes with Pakistan. But if Modi wants to solicit votes by hyping up nationalism, he will not only hinder India’s political and economic development but also harm China-India relations.
Modi should understand this: The solution to the China-India border disputes can’t be based on India’s domestic politics. We also want to remind India that its politics should not be mixed up with sensitive border issues. Garnering support for the BJP in such a way is absolutely unwise.
The informal summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Modi in April 2018 greatly eased tensions between the two countries after the 2017 Doklam standoff. As the China-India relationship stabilises, New Delhi should cherish this hard-won achievement together with Beijing, not harm the bilateral relationship at the crucial moment. As China-India border talks are still ongoing, India better shoulder its responsibility and help resolve border disputes.
If the BJP wants to win the 2019 election, the priority should be to win people’s hearts and improve their livelihoods, not visiting a disputed region and hyping nationalism. Whether the two Himalayan neighbours can resolve their disputes depends more on India and we hope the Modi administration will cease such irresponsible actions.